Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Michigan State's 5 Keys to Victory vs. TCU
The Michigan State Spartans (6-6) and TCU Horned Frogs (7-5) will clash in a meeting of Big Ten and Big 12 in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Dec. 29 in Tempe, Ariz.
If the Spartans want to win this game, it is imperative they do five things to ensure a second consecutive bowl victory after last year's heroics triple-overtime thriller victory over Georgia in the Outback Bowl.
The Spartans have just under four weeks to prepare for this game, dissecting their opponent's strengths and weaknesses to come up with a game plan for victory.
Michigan State struggled to a 3-5 record in conference play a year after making it to the Big Ten Championship, while the TCU experienced the growing pains of its first year in a big-time conference, going 4-5 against Big 12 opponents after star quarterback Casey Pachall was suspended in early October after an arrest on suspicion of driving intoxicated.
Both teams could use a win to head into the 2013 season on a positive note, but here are five keys to the game for the Spartans.
A Steady Dose of Le'Veon Bell
Bell did his best Javon Ringer impersonation (carried 390 times in 2008) in 2012, toting the ball an incredible 350 times for 1,648 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, adding 154 receiving yards and a touchdown.
In eight of the Spartans' 12 games, Bell received 25 or more carries, and most recently dominated the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the regular season finale to the tune of 266 yards and a touchdown on 35 carries.
TCU's run defense is 10th-best in the nation, surrendering just 103.9 yards on the ground per game. While it may be tougher sledding for Bell, the Spartans must involve him early and often if they want to win this contest.
Experimenting with New Offense
According to the Detroit Free Press' Joe Rexrode, head coach Mark Dantonio addressed the offensive problems before the regular season finale against Minnesota.
"We need to change somewhat with the times," Dantonio said, "which will happen."
While this isn't clear evidence of what will change and how it will change, it's a sign that Dantonio is acknowledging the offense to be stale and in need of a tune-up. Why not try some new things with nothing to lose against TCU?
Offensive coordinator Dan Roushar has come under fire for his team's inability to score points, but it's been more difficult with Andrew Maxwell in his first year starting at quarterback, an offensive line decimated by injuries and a young receiving corps that can be inconsistent at times.
The Spartans would be best-served trying some new schemes against TCU to get a feel for what their personnel can do in 2013.
In a game that is likely to be fairly low-scoring and tight, it is imperative MSU avoids turning the football over. The Spartans didn't turn the ball over a ton in 2012—18 times in 12 games—and must avoid them at all costs.
The Horned Frogs are sixth in the nation in turnovers gained, with an incredible 32 on the season. This opportunistic defense will be ready to pounce on any opportunity and create game-changing turnovers, so ball protection is crucial for the Spartans.
In their two most recent losses—to Nebraska and Northwestern—the Spartans turned the ball over six times and lost by a combined seven points.
Expect this game to be close, with whoever wins the turnover battle being the victor.
Contain TCU Running Backs
The Spartans are eighth in the country in run defense, allowing just 99.6 yards per game on the ground to opposing teams.
Big Ten running games are typically very strong and MSU has dealt with it well all season. However, the Horned Frogs have a dynamic duo in B.J. Catalon and Matthew Tucker, who have combined for 1,049 yards and five touchdowns on the ground this season.
Also, quarterback Trevone Boykin is a threat to run, as he has racked up 380 yards and three touchdowns.
The defense must make Boykin beat them with his arm. The freshman has completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 1,853 yards and 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions on the season.
Play a Full 60 Minutes
The Spartans have the look of a solid team, one that has a strong running game and a strong defense. That should equate to a successful season, right?
Wrong. Five of MSU's six losses have come by four points or fewer. This team has lacked the ability to play the whole 60 minutes with the same intensity and refuse to lose mentality.
They were in close games with Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska, among others in Big Ten play, but ended up losing the majority of their close games.
Their 16-13 overtime win Oct. 27 at Wisconsin is to be commended, but that wasn't the norm for the season. The Spartans went 11-3 next year and appeared to be in the upper echelon of Big Ten teams and a mainstay in the AP Top 25, but they couldn't close games this year.
The Spartans must exert full effort for an entire 60 minutes if they want to emerge victorious against a quality TCU team.